When Houndmouth was ready to start its sophomore album, the fearless foursome went for broke and reached out to Dave Cobb to see if the Nashville producer would take on the project.
Cobb, right now one of the hottest names in the roots hierarchy, already has pushed artists such as Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson toward the next level and is on the verge of propelling promising acts such as honeyhoney and Anderson East into the Americana stratosphere with their 2015 records.
Cobb had other ideas for Houndmouth after he was approached by Matt Myers, the Indiana group's unassuming frontman and guitarist who shares vocal and songwriting duties with his three former high school acquaintances.
"We called him and said, 'Do you want to do our next record?" Myers related over the phone last week as Houndmouth was heading to its next tour stop -- the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, North Carolina. "He said, 'Yeah, but I don't want to make another fucking Americana record.' "
Despite receiving accolades for their 2013 full-length debut, From the Hills Below the City, sharing the bill with Southern rockers like Alabama Shakes and Drive-By Truckers, and playing high-profile festivals such as Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, the Best Little Indy Rock Band in Americana was ready to mess with success.
"I agreed wholeheartedly (with Cobb)," Myers said. "Because when we came out, we got lumped in the Americana scene. ... It's fun to experiment and try and get outside the box, make it, I don't know, reach some more people."
Mission accomplished, folks.
Houdmouth (from left): Katie Toupin, Shane Cody, Zak Appleby and Matt Myers.
With Little Neon Limelight, released March 17 on Rough Trade Records, the result is worthy of another F-bomb: Fan-fucking-tastic.
Bringing additional sounds and effects into the mix, Cobb and engineering whiz Vance Powell steered Houndmouth to record 11 rousing tunes. A blend of soaring guitars, intoxicating four-part harmonies and passionate howling from the depths of a seemingly possessed soul, this collection is solid from beginning to end and already has merited a spot on this man's Best of 2015 list.
Not that it's changed the way Myers and his cohorts -- fellow Indianans Katie Toupin (keyboard), Shane Cody (drums) and Zak Appleby -- (bass) go about their business. Playing the part of a rock star who's celebrating newfound fame by adopting an extravagant lifestyle doesn't appear to be in their makeup.
On April 30, less than 24 hours before he would turn 27 years old, Myers was asked how he was going to celebrate his birthday.
"I went out for a really big meal, a way too expensive meal, the other night," Myers said of his dining experience at Fleurie in Charlottesville, Virginia, a ritzy French restaurant where he sampled lamp chops, monkfish, lobster and more before the waiter brought out three cigarettes on a tray upon hearing the guests discuss the pleasure of a post-meal puff. "So I think I'm gonna say that was my birthday meal so I don't have to spend any more money."
Besides, Myers in the past six months has become a homeowner, living in New Albany, Indiana, the same little town where he grew up and went to high school. "I'm renting out the upstairs (to his girlfriend's friend)," Myers said. "I couldn't justify paying for rent when I was gone (on the road), just 'cause the money's going towards nothing. So I got a place and rent out the upstairs, trying to pay off my mortgage someday."
While living just across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky, it's his home state that flows through Myers' bloodstream. "I'm never leaving," he said with a laugh, adding that he got his first tattoo in the shape of Indiana, making his think-ink pledge of allegiance with Cody and Appleby.
Unlike others from his southern part of the state, where loyalties often lie with the University of Louisville, Myers said he is a die-hard Indiana University Hoosiers booster, adding, "There's always the dreaded Kentucky fans walking around, too."
Yet it's the tight friendship he shares with his band mates that created a dynamic force to develop a fervent fan following in Indiana, Kentucky and throughout the rest of the country.
The four came together as musicians after they attended separate high schools in the area -- New Albany (Myers), Our Lady of Providence and Floyd Central (Toupin), Our Lady of Providence (Cody) and Clarksville (Appleby) -- and performed in different bands.
Myers was in a group with his cousin (hence the song "My Cousin Greg") he thinks was called the Absolutes, then played in a Motown cover band in Jeffersonville at Appleby's Cafe, a bar Zak's parents owned.
The Houndmouth connection continued when Myers formed a folk duo with Toupin called the Saint James Hotel. "I liked acoustic music," said Myers, who still enjoys the intimacy of it on cuts like Little Neon Limelight's "For No One," which he plays by himself in concert for a change of pace. "That's kind of how we learned how to write."
All four, including Cody in a stint with a bluegrass band, were guitarists until ...
"When we got together, I stuck on guitar, we got Zak a bass, found like an amp laying in the basement and Katie got on organ," said Myers, noting that neither Toupin nor Appleby had previous experience playing those instruments. "I called (Shane) up to play guitar. But it ended up he had a drum kit setup."
While making a DIY, self-titled EP that eventually was released in 2012 on Rough Trade, Houndmouth officially came into existence during sessions at Cody's house, which had thin windows that failed to block out sounds from a firehouse next door and the nearby traffic.
Thinking that recording at night was the solution, they didn't count on "these two dogs at a neighbor's house, and their barks would bleed on the track," Myers recalled while reminded by Cody that the names of the guilty animals were Jerry and Gale. "So it was just kind of the term thrown around there about 'Houndmouth' being on the track."
The name stuck and so did Houndmouth's tunes in the public's consciousness. This year, the quartet has performed on Letterman and at SXSW, and is heading for the Hangout festival this week in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Going South isn't a problem for Myers, who said, "When I travel up north, like maybe 50 miles north, all my friends up there would say I had a Southern accent."
Houndmouth certainly has some Southern sensibilities, though it has no geographical limitations while recently having been compared to The Band, with most of its members hailing from Canada.
"We really didn't listen to The Band all that much before the comparison," Myers said. "And then we went back and kind of discovered everything and then got into Neil Young, John Prine."
As Houndmouth prepares for another busy summer season that starts with opening for Ryan Adams at Red Rocks on June 4, there's another imaginative, enterprising band closer to home that's had some influence. The two might even cross paths somewhere along the festival circuit that includes Bonnaroo and the Forecastle Festival.
The latter event happens to be in downtown Louisville, still called My Kentucky Home by members of My Morning Jacket.
"We always run into those guys," Myers said of the Jim James-fronted quintet that's also playing the Hangout this weekend. "It's actually cool, 'cause we never had a scene in New Albany and so it's fun to go to Louisville and get mixed up in the scene a little bit."
When two bands on opposite sides of the river can read between the borderlines, anything's possible.
There's a new breed on the songwriters' block now. And Houndmouth is barking up the right tree.
ALABAMA GETAWAY WITH HOUNDMOUTH'S MATT MYERS:
FIVE FESTIVAL-RELATED QUESTIONS
1. What can this year's Hangout audience expect from Houndmouth?
MM: I don't know the time slot, but I'm assuming it's gonna be in the daytime (3:45 p.m. Friday, BMI stage), so we're gonna have to get a little weird. Get in our groove or something. I think we'll pretty much play all of our new record and then we'll throw in some on the ones that have gone over well from the first record that still have some juice left. "Hey Rose" has always been a banger. Probably "Penitentiary."
2. When you're not making music, where do you like to hang out?
MM: Well, I just got a place in New Albany. It's mostly been just setting up camp lately at home. When we're on the road, it's always fun to pass through Boston, New York. New York seems like a love/hate kind of thing. It's so fast-paced. And it's so much fun for like the first couple days. And then it gets hard to pace yourself.
3. Complete this sentence: If life is a beach, then Gulf Shores is ...
MM: Must be paradise, I guess. (laughs)
4. Which of the following Alabama-themed songs makes you wish you lived there (and why)?
a. "Sweet Home Alabama," Lynyrd Skynyrd
b. "Alabama Getaway," Grateful Dead
c. "My Home's In Alabama," Alabama
d. "Alabama Pines," Jason Isbell
MM: I'm gonna have to go with the Alabama "Alabama" song. We're not familiar with it but we're all very familiar with Alabama (the group) and we jam it all the time. It's mostly we're in Shane's truck blasting it.
5. What band or artist in the Hangout lineup would you pay to see?
MM: (After hearing some of the headlining choices:) I haven't seen the Jacket actually in a long time, so that's gonna be a highlight.